Clones Have Souls

Jason Dulle

Cloning has become a reality of the modern age. We have cloned everything from bulls to cats. We've even cloned human beings. The only difference between animal and human clones is that we have allowed the former to gestate and be born, but kill human clones so that they cannot mature according to their kind. Whether we allow the clones to mature or kill them prematurely, what do we make of their moral status? What are they? Are they human? Do they have souls? The age of cloning has introduced a host of metaphysical and moral questions, particularly for Christians. How are we to fit this new reality into our worldview?

Many Christians are confused about the nature and moral status of clones. A brother in Christ once asserted to me that the 1,000,000,000 man army in the book of Revelation will be soul-less clones!

Are clones human? Yes. Their genetic signature reveals as much. They have 46 human chromosomes. Furthermore, if clones were not human we would have to conclude that one person in a set of identical twins is not human because a twin is a natural clone. Cloning is a natural phenomenon in which a totipotent cell of an embryonic blastula separates itself for some unknown reason from the rest of the blastula, to form a genetically identical organism (usually within the first 7 days after fertilization, but twinning can occur up to 14 days post-fertilization). The new organism is jut as human as the original organism. Scientists can duplicate this form of cloning in the lab (called blastomere separation).

Blastomere separation is not the process of cloning we typically hear about these days. The other form of cloning is called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). In SCNT an oocyte (egg) and a somatic cell are enucleated (have their nucleus removed). The somatic cell nucleus is then inserted into the enucleated oocyte, an electrical spark is passed through the oocyte, and if all goes well it initiates the growth of a new human being that is genetically identical to the individual who provided the somatic cell.1 The important point to grasp is that while the process of SCNT is different from the natural process involved in twinning, the "product" is identical. A clone produced by SCNT might even be thought of as a "delayed twin." On an ontological level, then, a clone produced by SCNT is physically equivalent to a clone produced by the natural means of twinning (a.k.a. a twin).

While clones are physically human, are they metaphysically and morally equivalent to those of us who were produced through sexual procreation; i.e. do they have souls? While we could discuss fine points of philosophy to answer this question, there is a very simple way to determine if clones have souls. We can ask What happens at death? The soul separates itself from the body, leaving the body inanimate. Now if the soul's leaving of the body is the defining quality of death, what would be the defining quality of life? It would be the time at which a soul is joined to a body.2 If clones are animate bodies, they must have a soul.

"Since human persons are essentially souls-which are embodied in a body formed through the complex set of interactions in the human genome-it is impossible to speak of a person without a soul: to speak of a 'soulless person' is clearly an oxymoron" (J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul, 302). If there is life, there is a soul. Since a clone is alive, it must have a soul.

This brings up a third question: Where does the soul come from? Is it created anew? Is it part of the "parent" soul? How is it transmitted? It cannot be thought to be transmitted only through the natural reproductive process (with the soul inherent to the sperm/egg), because in cloning no such process has occurred and yet a soulish person has been created.

A traducian view of the soul's origin seems to be the best explanation for how the soul is transmitted. This view finds its Biblical justification in Genesis 5:1-3). God is said to have made man in his own likeness. When Adam conceived Seth, however, the Bible says he was made in the likeness of Adam (Genesis 5:1-3). It appears that the soul of Seth was not created anew by God, but was derived from Adam. Seth's soul was not a derivative of Adam's soul (there are no "pieces" to an immaterial substance that could be "broken off" and transferred to another person), but the soul-actualizing potential that was actualized to create Seth's soul resided within Adam.

While traducians have typically believed that the soul was transmitted through the reproductive gamete cells (sperm and eggs), the advent of SCNT demonstrates that the soul can be transmitted by other reproductive means as well. J.P. Moreland wrote:

Sperm and egg have potentialities to actualize a soul when the proper physical-reproductive conditions exist, whether in natural or technological reproduction. When sperm and egg unite, the two different entities come together and form a new one, and out of the soulish potentialities of sperm and egg a new soul emerges, which then is the driver for the development of the person. What we may be on the verge of discovering with the advances in human cloning is that virtually any cell, not just the sex cells in sperm and eggs, has these soulish potentialities. When the proper physical-reproductive conditions exist for cloning-that is, when the cloned cells are placed in the enucleated egg and it begins to develop-the soulish potentialities are actualized to form a new soul. … Each human cell could have the capacity for the development of a soul, actualized in the proper conditions. This would be consistent with our view of how the soul is intimately related to the body. The soul permeates the body and cannot be isolated from any particular part of it. (J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul, 304-5.)

So yes, a clone does have a soul. Surprised? Maybe you would be surprised to know that animals have souls too, but I'll save that for another time!


1. This brings up an interesting question: Should we think of the somatic cell donor as the "parent" or the "sibling" of the clone? If the latter, would the clone be parentless? But how can one be parentless? If we consider the donor to be the parent, how is it possible to be the parent of your identical twin? Twins are siblings in their relationship to one another. The advent of cloning may force us rethink exactly what it means to be, or have parents/siblings.
2. The question can be asked, Which comes first: the body or the soul? Frank Pastore ("Introduction to Philosophic Anthropology" noted that since you can't have living bodies forming without souls, and living bodies cannot form without DNA, and DNA doesn't function unless it communicates information, and information can only come from a rational mind, and the soul is rational, the soul is prior to the body. This creates a problem, however, because it would introduce the concept of a pre-existent soul looking for a body. The way philosophers have solved this dilemma is to say the soul is ontologically prior to, but temporally simultaneous with the body.

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